This opens well – not just with the beautiful aerial shots of Budapest but with a ridiculously enjoyable prison break, with an exasperated Simon Pegg watching Cruise emerge from the cell where he’s been doing his Cooler King impression and obstinately head off in the wrong direction, as Ain’t That a Kick in the Head blares out over the prison tannoy.
This one’s perhaps more obviously a sequel. Pegg’s character is back, albeit in the field (requiring dialogue to explain) and so now basically doing Rhames’ character’s job. (Rhames, the only other constant besides Cruise across each film so far, only makes a cameo this time.) Paula Patton is the third team member so, alas, we don’t get the team from III back.
And although she is absent, there is plenty of dialogue concerning Hunt’s wife from the previous film. Indeed a major plot development for the analyst played by Jeremy Renner centres on her absence. (Spoilers… it would have been profoundly unsatisfying to have her fate sealed off-screen, which is where the film seems to head at one point, and, in fact, we do end up seeing her. Result.)
The film also relies on the audience’s familiarity with the famous masks, as only a sequel could, since these are referred to often never ultimately used.
And, of course, it shares the fate of many sequels intent on recapturing the magic of a previous instalment: it’s not as good. The Kremlin just isn’t as fun as the Vatican.
The humour is still there, perhaps unsurprisingly as Brad Bird takes over directorial responsibility from J J Abrams (although Abrams is still producer). The last film I saw in the cinema was Bird’s outstanding sequel to The Incredibles, proof that sometimes you can beat the original. But that film relies on the over-the-top humour, which perhaps comes at the expense of the suspense. Certainly Pegg’s character seems to swerve uneasily from dry-but-adept to goofy in the second reel. Nor do we have anything to rival the contained violence of Seymour Hoffman’s threat in III. Instead we have a rehash of The Spy Who Loved Me/Moonraker nuke-humanity-and-start-again plot, from an era, coincidentally, where the Bond series became bogged down in the tech – something that is clearly starting to happen here. Though in fairness, Ghost Protocol does have the most impressive and credible “invisibility” tech I have seen – eat your heart out Die Another Day.
Renner develops into a second action man on the team. The inevitable assignment-while-suspended that has been Cruise’s trademark in each film goes to Renner in this (albeit levitating for once). It’s not as if Cruise doesn’t get any of the stunts, but I wonder if at 49 the producers felt Cruise needed his own Mike Gambit?
The film also squanders the talent of Léa Seydoux as a super-assassin who gets next to no screen time. Tom Wilkinson fulfils the function of the big boss, following from Fishbourne and Hopkins. It’s also pretty clear he won’t return either.
But one thing that is different: for once there is no mole/rogue agent. It hardly seems like a Mission Impossible film but on this occasion the IMF folks get to resolve a problem that’s not of their own making – so I guess they can finally hold their heads up and say they’ve made a net contribution to the world…